More good than palatable 

Oneida returns with more challenging rock

Good music is not always popular, and popular music often, well, sucks. Maybe it's just that they come out of two demonstrably different impulses. The quirky and idiosyncratic may not be entertaining but it has more enduring value than, say, "Everybody Loves Raymond." Such is the case of Oneida, a Brooklyn act whose music covers a wide expanse and tends toward a dense sound that forces the listener to meet the music on its terms, as opposed to pop bands which pander to the audience.

"We're not hermits, it's not like public acceptance would destroy our music," says keyboardist Bobby Matador (aka Fat Bobby). "But at the same time, it would be foolish to expect it to be popular, even as popular as some indie-rock bands. We're not super-palatable at first listen compared to what's out there. We never set out to be music that's difficult, but at the same time we always pursued music that we want to make. I can listen to our music and love it and still understand why there might be 10 people who like it."

Since the departure of original guitarist Papa Crazy, a new chapter has begun for the band, one that has brought the psychedelic and experimental aspects more to the fore, while toning down its bluesy, garage edge. It is moody, mutating music with nooks and crannies. Spurts of noise, buzzing sonics and punkish churn bring to mind experimental artists such as Can, the Fall and Brainiac.

The band began in the mid-'90s and released four albums before 2002's Each One Teach One. Many consider it to be the band's best album with that lineup, and an apogee for its sludgy art rock.

"Each One Teach One was done with Crazy as he was kind of withdrawing from the band. At the same time, it was kind of a transitional album, and the culmination, really," says Matador. "I feel like that record is the high water mark for those four people."

Crazy's departure reduced the band to a three-piece and produced a lot of soul-searching, leading to a new approach that employs more intricate arrangements and deeper, repetitive structures, recalling German experimental '60s space rockers Amon Düül II.

"The real advantage -- as opposed to the other lineup -- was being able to deploy space. I remember very well one of the first times we got together to play after Crazy left. There was no pressure. We weren't even sure we wanted to still be a band," Matador says. "So we decided to get together and I remember being, 'Well, now that he's gone, do I have to play a lot more?' But it became obvious that it worked just as well if we all played less, and then we used that as a compositional element."

The result is two albums, 2004's Secret Wars and this year's The Wedding. They have pushed the bounds of Oneida's craft, and are likely to find greater appreciation among rock enthusiasts down the road than the albums found upon release. Currently, the band is working on a triple album tentatively titled Thank Your Parents.

"It's a combination of ambition and not giving a fuck. We have the ambition to do stuff, and if it's not tenable or it's somehow a bad idea, we don't care," Matador says. "I don't have a huge rock-star ego, but I really do feel like time will justify us and our music. There is so much music that people have to wade through. It's perfectly good, a lot of it, but I think it's transient in a way that ours isn't. People are going to understand what we're trying to do and are going to appreciate it. But really, I don't care if that happens -- I want to sell a million albums, sure -- but I'm not hung up on whether that happens."


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